[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
Despite taking 3 of a possible 6 points last week, it was a somewhat mediocre week for the Canucks as they won just 1 of their 3 games (1-1-1).
After losing in a shootout against the hot Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, the Canucks beat the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference, at Rogers Arena. The game had all the feel of a great, defensive, playoff battle, including a lot of physical play and timely goals by Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins.
And then on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, they dug themselves a big, early hole – to be exact, a 3-0 hole in the first 5 minutes – before trying to battle back late and ultimately falling by a 5-3 score. The game was a mixture of poor defence, bad decisions, a few goals that Luongo would want back, and Zack Kassian’s coming out party.
Oh yeah… and that Cody Hodgson guy got traded at the start of the week.
66 GP, 41-17-8, 90 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)
In just 3 games, Zach Kassian has shown Vancouver fans why Canucks management thought that he would be a perfect fit on this team. Certainly, he’s shown his versatility by being able to play on every line. On Saturday, against his old team, he scored a goal and an assist – his first 2 points as a Canuck.
He’s not afraid to throw the body and he has an impressive ability to control the puck along the boards and in the dirty areas. He’s mentioned that his idol growing up was Todd Bertuzzi and we don’t have to look far to see the similarities.
Kassian’s NHL career is only 30 games old, but he’s showing signs of fulfilling his potential to be good power forward in this league. And if he keeps showing what he’s shown us so far here in Vancouver, he could very well play an important role for the Canucks down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Despite many fans’ expectations, Mason Raymond survived trade deadline day and remains a Canuck, at least for the time being. Unfortunately, he continues to struggle and will begin tonight’s game against the Stars on the fourth line.
We know he had what could have been a career-ending back injury, but it’s also hard to ignore that he has 3 points (2G-1A) in his last 15 games despite playing regular minutes in the top-six and the second PP unit.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 vs. Dallas Stars (7:00 PM start, home)
The Dallas Stars head into Vancouver just over a week after these two clubs’ first meeting of the season. In that game, Loui Eriksson handed the Canucks a loss in overtime. We also got the pleasure of seeing Vernon Fiddler poking fun at Kevin Bieksa’s “angry face”, which caused AV to have a giggling attack. To be honest, that was probably the best part of the game.
The Stars are battling for their playoff lives in a very competitive Western Conference. They currently occupy the 7th playoff spot in the West, but the 8th place San Jose Sharks are only 2 points back with 2 games in hand and the 9th place Los Angeles Kings are 3 points back with 1 game in hand. The Stars are going for a sweep of the Northwest Canadian teams, having already beaten the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in this road trip.
Victoria’s Jamie Benn was not in the lineup against the Canucks last week, but he will bring his size and finesse to this week’s matchup. Benn has 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 3 games, and although he’s missed 11 games this season, he is on pace for a career year in points. He is currently second in team scoring with 51 points (18G-33A) while boasting a plus-14 rating.
Thursday, March 8, 2012 vs. Winnipeg Jets (7:00 PM start, home)
It’s been a while since the Winnipeg Jets have come to play in Vancouver; the two clubs meet for the first and only time this season. The addition of the Jets was a great thing for hockey for Canada and they haven’t disappointed their great fans. They’re battling hard for a playoff spot and currently sit in 8th place in a very tight Eastern Conference.
Last year, the old Jets, the Atlanta Thrashers, went 2-4-0 against the Northwest Division; this season, the Jets have had more success. They have a 4-1-0 record against the Northwest so far and have outscored them by a combined 18-11 score so don’t be surprised if this is a high-scoring event.
Blake Wheeler is having a great season leading the Jets in assists (39), points (53) and plus/minus (+10 rating). He’s one of the hottest players in the NHL right now with at least a point in 9 of his last 11 games – he has 18 points (5G-13A) in that span.
Saturday, March 10, 2012 vs. Montreal Canadiens (7:00 PM start, home)
Currently in last place in the Eastern Conference, this has been a season to forget for les Montreal Canadiens. With 16 games left, they’re 10 points out of playoff spot and a woeful 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.
In their first meeting of the season in Montreal, the Canucks beat the Habs 4-3 in a shootout. Ex-Canuck Cody Hodgson led the way with a goal and the shootout winner, and Bobby Luo stopped 20 of 23 shots in regulation and OT, plus all 3 Habs shooters in the shootout. Erik Cole led the Habs with a goal and an assist.
Outside of Montreal, David Desharnais is still a relative unknown, but he has been a huge contributor for the Habs this season. All he’s done is lead the team in assists (37) and points (51). He also has their plus/minus rating (+10 rating). He is currently riding a 4-game point streak (3G-4A-7P).
One game does not represent an entire NHL season.
But Washington’s 5-0 loss to Carolina Monday night was another of the growing number of nails being hammered into the coffin laying rest to the Washington Capitals – 2011-12 edition.
Make no mistake, this Washington team is taking after Monty Python’s dead parrot – it’s bereft of life, destined to rest in peace.
And to think just 24 months ago this was a team destined to transform and dominate the NHL landscape.
There are two reasons why the juggernaut Washington Capitals of 2009-10 have transformed into a Cinderella-sized pumpkin.
The Little Reason: Injuries to their core players
Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games in the 2009-10 season. In the two seasons since, Green has played just 61 regular season games total. He is the straw that stirs the Washington attack, and he’s been MIA for most of the last two seasons.
This year, the team’s number #1 centre – Nicklas Backstrom – has missed significant time due to a concussion. The drop-off in talent from Backstrom to Marcus Johansson is the equivalent of leaving Charlize Theron to date Mayim Bialik.
Other than Alex Ovechkin, these are the team’s two best, most dynamic players. Without them it’s a no brainer the Capitals have struggled more.
The Big Reason: GM George McPhee abandoned his plan
The 2009-10 Capitals were having fun tearing up the league on their way to a 121-point season. They were the “go-go” Capitals, featuring seven 20+ goal scorers.
Flash forward to today, and the Capitals will be lucky to have four 20-goal scorers.
2009-10 Capitals 20-goal scorers:
2011-12 Capitals 20-goal scorers (on pace):
Where did the offense go?
It was left in Montreal during the Spring of 2010.
That seven game loss to the Canadiens was devastating to the Capitals front office, who expected nothing less than a championship run that year.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how the Capitals lost the series after being up three-games-to-one:
1) They were a young team (younger than the team that lost to Pittsburgh the year before). Inexperienced playoff teams are extremely suspect to the whims of momentum (both positive and negative).
2) Confidence is a major factor in the success of special teams, and the Capitals just didn’t have it in their powerplay (1-for-33 in the series). This meant the Habs could take penalties without punishment.
3) Montreal employed a passive trap when they had the lead, which confounded coach Bruce Boudreau.
4) Montreal paid extra-special attention to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom defensively, challenging the rest of the Capitals to create offense.
5) Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak put on the greatest playoff goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 1992-93, if not longer.
Given the above, the steps that had to be taken to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final were clear:
1) Find some playoff experience to add to the dressing room.
2) Count on better luck (Halak-esque performances don’t happen every year).
3) Support coach Boudreau in figuring out how to beat the trap.
4) Find an impact second-line centre to take the pressure off of Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Instead, General Manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction, abandoning the style of play he’d built the team on for one that put a priority on defensive accountability.
It’s been downhill ever since.
The 2010-11 Capitals racked up 107 points but their goals per game rate fell more than a full goal (-1.09). A distance emerged between the team’s run-and-gun – and best – player (Ovechkin) and its coach. Talented Tomas Fleischmann was shipped out for the blueline carcass known as Scott Hannan.
Come playoff time, Washington was swept by another trapping team, this time the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. But unlike during the Montreal series (where Washington generated scoring chances to no avail), the Capitals went meekly into the off-season, and with little offensive push back.
This past summer, GM George McPhee doubled-down on his defensive bet. He added Tomas Vokoun to play goal, and brought in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik to bring size and grit to the team.
What none of these players do is create offense on their own.
And, for the first part of the 2011-12 season, they couldn’t stop a puck either. Vokoun got off to a poor start, and despite his team out-shooting and out-chancing the opposition, Bruce Boudreau was fired.
The hiring of Dale Hunter was the last bit of “defensive desperation” to come out of the Washington front office. As discussed last week, Hunter’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach has stifled what creativity has remained in the Capitals attack.
The transformation of this team from “go-go” to “no-go” is now complete.
Today the Washington Capitals are in a desperate fight for their playoff lives. It didn’t have to be this way.
If Capitals fans should blame anyone, it’s GM George McPhee.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
Ken Hitchcock has more than 500 wins, a .590 career winning percentange and a Stanley Cup to his credit.
But he’s never won the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year.
With all due respect to the great work John Tortorella, Dan Bylsma, Kevin Dineen and Mike Babcock are doing with their respective teams, Hitchcock should win his first Jack Adams Award this year.
The impact he’s had on the St. Louis Blues has been incredible. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at how each of this season’s coaching changes have played out.
|Team||Goals For||Goals Against||Shots For||Shots Against||Powerplay||Penalty Kill|
Pre-hiring: St. Louis was 6-7 (.461 points %)
Post-hiring (as of February 14): St. Louis is 28-8-7 (.733 points %)
Under Hitchcock, the Blues have shaved almost a goal-a-game off their defense, while improving their special teams astronomically. The powerplay, penalty kill and winning percentage improvements are the biggest gains amongst any of the new coaches. Carried over an 82-game season, the Blues under Hitchcock are playing 120-point hockey.
Pre-hiring: Los Angeles was 15-14-4 (.515 points %)
Post-hiring: Los Angeles is 12-5-7 (.646 points %)
Sutter has done exactly what many expected of him when he was hired – he’s ignored calls for more offense and tightened the screws defensively to an even greater extent than Terry Murray. Unexpectedly, this approach is working quite well, as the Kings have gone from playoff question mark to an almost certainty… especially if they can add some offense at the deadline.
Pre-hiring: Anaheim was 6-14-4 (.333 points %)
Post-hiring: Anaheim is 16-11-5 (.578 points %)
Under Boudreau Anaheim’s top offensive players have woken up, improving Anaheim’s offence by more than half-a-goal per game. Meanwhile, “Gabby’s” also tightened up the defence (roughly two-and-a-half less shots per game). The penalty kill hasn’t been as good though.
It’s interesting – the three coaches who have (arguably) had prior success at the NHL level have had the biggest winning percentage improvement amongst all teams that changed coaches.
Pre-hiring: Washington was 12-9-1 (.568 points %)
Post-hiring: Washington is 16-14-4 (.529 points %)
Hunter’s clamped down even more on the Capitals offense than Boudreau had prior to his firing. While this has led to a better goals against average, Washington is giving up more shots, and is taking fewer shots than before. The powerplay’s improved, but it certainly looks like the Capitals under Hunter are a borderline playoff team at best.
Pre-hiring: Carolina was 8-13-4 (.400 points %)
Post-hiring: Carolina is 13-12-7 (.516 points %)
Muller’s helped the offense get going, although one could argue the improved play of Eric Staal has been the major difference maker here. Goals against and shots against are slightly worse, while the penalty kill is much poorer.
Pre-hiring: Montreal was 13-12-7 (.516 points %)
Post-hiring: Montreal is 10-13-2 (.440 points %)
The coaches may have changed, but according to these numbers players aren’t playing all that differently for Cunneyworth than they were with Jacques Martin. The sad fact for Cunneyworth supporters is that Martin won with this team and the new coach isn’t. Montreal is taking fewer shots but their powerplay is improved. Honestly there is nothing here to suggest Cunneyworth will be a head coach beyond this season.
Pre-hiring: Columbus was 12-24-5 (.356 points %)
Post-hiring: Columbus is 6-9-1 (.406 points %)
In fairness to Richards, the Blue Jackets season was lost well before he took over the reigns as coach. Nonetheless, it does look like the team is playing worse for Richards then they did Scott Arniel. The powerplay improvement could be inflated due to the small sample size (Richards has coached just 16 games for the team).
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
With the NHL Trade deadline a little less than a month from now, speculation is heating up.
Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. Speculation isn’t just heating up, it’s already reached a good rolling boil. We’ve entered the silly season of trade rumours people, where Ryan Getzlaf could be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you know, just ‘cuz.
It’s not just fans or the media that can get swept up in the euphoria that is the trade talk. General Managers can too. With that in mind, here are the four worst trade decisions that could be made by a General Manager in the NHL today.
4. Trade Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets
Granted, Carter has had a difficult first season in Columbus. He’s looked lethargic when he’s been healthy (which hasn’t been nearly as much as the team had hoped).
Carter remains a one-shot scorer though and a first-line centre talent. He’s the type of player you rarely find on the trade market (the last first line centre to be traded was Joe Thornton back in 2005-06).
In Carter, Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen, there is a good offensive core in place in Columbus. God knows there are other teams trying to build around less up front (cough Phoenix, Florida, Winnipeg to name three cough cough).
Now it could be that the Blue Jackets just want to save themselves some money and get Carter’s $5.27 million off the books. This is incredibly short-sighted thinking. The Blue Jackets need wins to generate revenues. They need talent on the roster to produce wins. Eventually, that talent gets paid, and scoring talent of Carter’s ilk can get a lot more expensive than $5.27 million a season.
Moving Carter doesn’t get the Blue Jackets anywhere closer to wins in the short-term, and is not guaranteed to save them much money in the long-term.
In short – it would be a trade that doesn’t make much sense.
3. Trade Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres
At one point, it could be argued he was the best goalie in the game, but these days Ryan Miller is pretty, pretty, pretty average . His performance and outspokenness has made him a lightning rod in Buffalo where pre-season optimism has turned into a season-long nightmare.
A great goaltender gives an NHL team a chance to win every night, and turns poor or mediocre teams in all other areas into playoff participants. Miller was once great – there’s no question he could be great again. The smart move in Buffalo would be to consider goaltending “secure” (Jhonas Enroth is a talented youngster who’s earned more time in the crease) and address other needs.
You know, like the Swiss Cheese defense of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr that would have trouble defending against a minor bantam team some nights.
2. Trade PK Subban from the Montreal Canadiens
PK Subban isn’t your typical NHL player – he’s colourful, opinionated and openly confident – and this has frequently contradicted with the conservative, conformist culture established by the Canadiens in the era of Bob Gainey, Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier.
There are few NHL defencemen that offer the same combination of physical gifts, offensive instincts and passion for the big moment as Subban does. He will be an NHL star, and will one day find himself in Norris consideration.
You can count the number of Stanley Cups won by teams without a strong offensive defenseman on one hand. Trading Subban would be akin to the Canadiens admitting they don’t have any plans to truly compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future.
1. Trade Brendan Morrow from the Dallas Stars
For all the hulabaloo about trading Jarome Iginla from Calgary, the potential trade of Brendan Morrow from Dallas would be the bigger mistake.
Uncertain Stars ownership has wrecked havoc on the franchise’s off-ice fortunes. Now, with new owner Tom Gaglardi in the mix, the team needs to re-establish its relationship with the Dallas community.
Morrow is an obvious, important player around which to build this new relationship. He’s one of the few remaining links to the championship-calibre teams Dallas iced in the late 90s and early 2000s. Moreover, he is the type of character leader that can shape and inspire not only a locker room, but a fan base.
With one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Stars don’t need to jettison salary. They should move other pieces before moving their captain.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
Usually - you know, when the league’s marquee player isn’t in a snit and boycotting the All-Star game – the narrative surrounding the NHL’s mid-season classic (in this case classic is defined as ”tired tradition”) is as follows:
“How can we make this game suck less?”
Ironically, 2012 represents the 25th anniversary of the best hockey that’s ever been played during an NHL All-Star event. Wayne Gretzky himself called it the fastest-paced hockey he had ever played in.
Rendez-Vous ’87 , which pitted a team of NHL All-Stars against a team from the Soviet Union, was the brainchild of then Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut. The teams split their two games (4-3 NHL, 5-3 U.S.S.R.), and although Russia outscored the NHL 8-7, the series is considered a tie. At the time, legendary Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov noted:
”The NHL didn’t win and neither did we. The person that won was hockey itself. Both games were like holidays, like festivals, two of the greatest hockey games you’ll ever see.”
More than a two-game series however, Rendez-Vous ’87 was a celebration of North American and Russian culture held within the backdrop of Quebec City’s famous Winter Carnival. Aubut spent $10-14 million ($20-30 million in today’s money) to bring Soviet chefs, dancers and singers to Canada. Gala gourmet dinners feted international businessmen, politicians and athletes. In short, it was much like the cultural Olympiad that surrounds today’s Olympic Games. To some, Rendez-Vous ’87 was the first time the NHL truly operated like a professional big league sport.
Rendez-Vous ’87 was also not without controversy. For starters, costs associated with the event were astronomical for the times. A plate at the gala dinner cost $350 per person ($694 in today’s dollars). Only 5% of tickets for the two games at Le Colisee were open to the public. Some local media were critical that the hockey event was ursurping deserved attention away from the traditional Winter Carnival.
Alan Eagleson, head of the NHL Players Association at the time, was also against the event, worried Aubut would be successful and challenge his own place as the official kingpin of international hockey. Eagleson used the cost of local hotel rooms ($146-a-night) as a rallying point, threatening to pull players from the game.
And yet, Rendez-Vous ’87 is barely remembered in hockey circles. Marcel Aubut’s goal of creating an “important date in hockey history” fell far short.
The question is: why?
Well it doesn’t help that not a single U.S. TV network carried the series. Sure, ESPN broadcast the games, but that was back in the days of America’s Cup and dog show programming for the future broadcasting behemoth. At the time, ESPN was just another SportsChannel America.
The legacy of Rendez-Vous ’87 hasn’t been helped by the Montreal-Quebec City rivalry either. At the time, there was an element of jealousy on the part of Montrealers – a jealousy they would naturally be loathe to admit. Nonetheless, the disappearence of NHL hockey from Quebec City less than ten years later has made forgetting all the more easy in Quebec.
Perhaps the greatest reason that Rendez-Vous ’87 is but a footnote in history is what came immediately after it. The 1987 Canada Cup was one of the defining moments in Canadian hockey history. Despite the fact that Rendez-Vous ’87 was my first experience watching the Soviets, the 1987 Canada Cup was the pinnacle of the Canada-U.S.S.R. rivalry for my generation. And while Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky had first played together during Rendez-Vous ’87, it was at the Canada Cup that their chemistry bore fruit, leading to the greatest goal by the two greatest players of my childhood.
Less than three years later, Russians were playing in the NHL. The Cold War was coming to a close. Soon there would be a Russian players hoisting the cup; Russian players winning scoring titles and league trophies. The mystique and mystery of hockey from behind the Iron Curtain was gone.
This week, while the NHL trots out its latest gimmick – a fantasy draft - to put some life into the All-Star game, I’ll think back to Quebec City and Rendez-Vous ’87. To a time when the mid-season exhibition meant something more than appeasing corporate sponsors and players trying not to get hurt.
ONE THOUGHT ON THE FLY
Alex Ovechkin’s decision to not play in the NHL All-Star game is another example of why, at the end of his career, we may look at him as Pavel Bure 2.0 (an insanely-talented, but otherwise selfish, non-winner whose career did not live up to the hype). Rumours that he’s been out-of-shape this year don’t help the cause either. Meanwhile, everything about Evgeni Malkin these days screams “heart and soul” or champion. The career journey of these two Russian superstars (who were once considered “bitter enemies“) shall be fascinating to watch.
Yesterday we took at look at the “real” Western Conference standings after 40 games.
Here now is a look at the East.
Remember, to learn a bit more about an individual team’s strengths and weaknesses, each squad was ranked in six categories*:
Teams were ranked and then put into groups of five, with those ranking 1-5 in each category designated “great,” 6-10 “good,” 11-15 “above average,” 16-20 “below average,” 21-25 “poor,” 26-30 “awful.”
(* – Stats were taken as of Thursday January 12, once all teams had played at least 40 games.)
The Eastern Conference Standings After 40 Games
1. New York Rangers (58 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (31 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Above Average / GF: Good / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Awful
Notes: The Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 circus certainly didn’t phase the Rangers, who went 15-4-1 in the second quarter to once again stay atop the “real” NHL standings. Marian Gaborik scored at a 50-goal pace during games 21-40, while hard-working captain Ryan Callahan chipped in with 6 goals and 17 points. Meanwhile, Michael Del Zotto was Mike Green-esque, with 3 goals and 16 points from the blueline.
2. Boston Bruins (57 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (31 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (26 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Poor / GF: Great / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great
Notes: Probably the deepest team in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NHL. Their 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio was at 2.06 after 40 games, the best in the entire league and more than double the league average. Tuukka Rask (1.07 goals against, .964 save percentage) and Tim Thomas (2.17 goals against, .941 save percentage) are practically unbeatable. Making the Bruins even more dangerous: David Krejci has woken up (7 goals, 23 points during games 21-40).
3. Florida Panthers (48 points)
Games 21-40: 6th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Above Average 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Above Average
Notes: They’re in third by virtue of leading the Southeast Division after 40 games. Like the Minnesota Wild, the Panthers are starting to fall back to earth. Goal scoring was way down, from 2.95 goals per game in the first quarter to 2.2 goals per game in the second. Somehow Tomas Kopecky was -11 in games 21-40.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (52 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Good / GF: Great / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Great
Notes: Sergei Bobrovsky (1.75 goals against, .941 save percentage) was much, much, much better than Ilya Bryzgalov (3.52, .876) in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Kimmo Timonen (1 goal, 13 points. +6) capably replaced Chris Pronger at least in the short-term as the team’s go-to defenseman. Jaromir Jagr slowed down a bit in games 21-40 (6 goals, 14 points vs 18 points in the first quarter), but some of that was due to injury. James Van Riemsdyk has disappointed (3 goals in the second quarter).
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (46 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Great / GF: Good / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Great
Notes: For the second straight year, the Penguins are battling through injuries to keep a playoff spot, only this time Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t played as well (.902 save percentage in the second quarter). Evgeni Malkin entered beast mode (30 points in games 21-40), and depending on how Pittsburgh finishes could be a Hart Trophy candidate.
6. New Jersey Devils (46 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Poor
Notes: The Devils cannot make the playoffs with Martin Brodeur as their number one goalie. His save percentage was just .878 in the second quarter. This despite the fact the Devils only gave up 30-or-more shots in three of his 14 starts, and two of the three being overtime games. Zach Parise (8 goals, 22 points) and Ilya Kovalchuk (10 goals, 21 points) awoke in games 21-40, and the Devils have two solid scoring lines for the first time in ages.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (45 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Good / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Poor
Notes: Leaf struggles in the second quarter are well documented already (thanks Toronto-centric hockey media!). The penalty kill was roughly 4% worse (down to 72.3%) and was the difference between a win and a loss most nights. Meanwhile, James Reimer wasn’t very good (3-4-3, 3.23 goals against, .893 save percentage since returning in December from injury).
8. Ottawa Senators (45 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Awful / GF: Good / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Good
Notes: Ottawa has improved their five-on-five play and with that are rising up the standings. Eight times in the second quarter they played into overtime, garnering 13 of a possible 16 points in those games. Daniel Alfreddsson hit the rejuvenation machine (17 points in 15 December games, versus 10 points in his first 18 games of the year).
9. Washington Capitals (44 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (19 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Good / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Poor
Notes: One of the great “what could have beens” in NHL history is what the Capitals could have been if Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens hadn’t gotten into GM George McPhee’s head after one playoff series. Washington’s loss to Montreal effectively ended the “all offense, all the time” experiment that defined the Capitals and could have redefined how elite NHL teams are built. Nowadays, the Capitals are as ho-hum a franchise as can be. On the bright side, Alex Ovechkin (10 goals, 17 points) and Nik Backstrom (6 goals, 19 points) were decent in the second quarter. However, Mike Knuble entered retirement during games 21-40 (1 goal, 2 points), while other core players Brooks Laich (4 goals, 8 points), Alex Semin (5 goals, 11 points), Marcus Johansson (1 goal) struggled. Tomas Vokoun did find his old self (2.45 goals against, .919 save percentage).
10. Winnipeg Jets (43 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Below Average / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Above Average
Notes: As you can probably guess from the number of times it appears above, the Jets are an average hockey club. Still, they’ve ridden a hot home record (10-3-1 during the second quarter) to position themselves for a run at a playoff spot. Evander Kane (10 goals), Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little (both with 7 goals) had nice second quarters. A Teemu Selanne deadline trade to Winnipeg would be magical.
11. Buffalo Sabres (40 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (16 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average
Notes: A lot has been made of Ryan Miller’s performance this season, and his second quarter numbers certainly support the criticism (3.21 goals against, .894 save percentage). However, a greater factor in the Sabres decline has been the errors the team made prior to the season. Robyn Regehr (-10 in the second quarter) and Christian Ehrhoff (2 goals, 7 points, -7 in games 21-40) were supposed to improve the defense and haven’t. Ville Leino was supposed to augment the offense, and he clearly hasn’t worked out (1 goal, 5 points in the second quarter). Look for Derek Roy (2 goals, 10 points in games 21-40) to be possibly moved at the trade deadline.
12. Montreal Canadiens (37 Points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (16 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Below Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average
Notes: It’s clear the Habs are going in the wrong direction. A notoriously strong defensive team under former coach Jacques Martin, this part of Montreal’s game regressed in the second quarter, with the team giving up more shots and more goals per game. The recent acquisition of Tomas Kaberle did help the powerplay (18.1% with Kaberle in the lineup during the second quarter; 10.4% before his arrival).
13. Tampa Bay Lightning (37 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (20 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Poor
Notes: There’s nothing wrong in Tampa Bay a decent goaltender couldn’t cure. Dwayne Roloson has become the worst goalie in the league (4.63 goals against, .866 save percentage in the second quarter) while Mathieu Garon has been below average (2.84 goals against, .901 save percentage during games 21-40). Could Martin St. Louis be dealt for a young goalie? Or do they go to the well one more time for a veteran Islanders goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov)? Marc-Andre Bergeron has cooled off since his hot start (1 goal, 6 points in the second quarter).
14. New York Islanders (36 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in the Conference (14 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Above Average / GF: Poor / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Below Average
Notes: The Islanders turned it around in the second quarter, particularly on the attack. They went from 1.90 goals per game in the first quarter to 2.55 during games 21-40. The powerplay was a big part of this increase, scoring at a 25.8% clip, almost an 11% improvement over the first 20 games of the year. John Tavares has arrived (6 goals, 23 points in the second quarter).
15. Carolina Hurricanes (32 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in the Conference (15 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Awful / GF: Below Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average
Notes: If you can believe it, Cam Ward’s play has gotten worse statistically as the season has gone along. His save percentage was .890 in November, .878 in December. The ‘Canes scored more in the second quarter, while reducing their shots against slightly under new coach Kirk Muller. Muller also gave the young talent on the team a chance (Drayson Bowman from around 7 minutes of ice-time to 15+; Zac Dalpe from around 5 minutes of ice time to 13+). Quietly, Eric Staal’s game returned (13 points in 14 December games).
In the spirit of the New Year, here are five resolutions the NHL should make for 2012:
1. Abandon the “game is too fast” narrative
As the NHL concussion issue has grown, so too has the argument that the game is currently too fast. According to Ex-NHL’ers (most recently Eric Lindros) and several general managers (Carolina’s Jim Rutherford is the most vocal at the moment), putting the red line back in would slow the game down and reduce the number of concussions taking place on ice.
This, naturally, is complete poppycock and a classic case of conservative, backward NHL thinking.
If someone were to study this issue (and you have to assume someone with the NHL and NHLPA is studying this), the numbers would prove the majority of concussions occur away from the middle of the ice, along the boards, whether the puck is part of the play or not. The numbers would also suggest fighting contributes a significant number of concussions to the league’s totals.
The flow of NHL hockey – the quickness with which teams’ transition from offense to defense and back again – has never been greater. As a result the games, even with scoring trending downward, remain exciting.
Putting the red line back in would reduce this flow and give us an NHL product not unlike the dead puck era of the late 1990s early 2000s.
No thank you.
2. Change overtime
Are shootouts exciting? Yes. Have we exhausted the premise? Absolutely. Shootouts are a nightly occurrence. Also, when was the last time you talked about a shootout goal around the water cooler the next day?(Probably after this one?)
Let’s presume the NHL’s reasons behind the current 4-on-4 overtime and shootout format were a) to guarantee a game result and eliminate ties; b) to keep teams in playoff races longer by offering up extra points; c) to give games a consistent length of play for easier television network scheduling.
These issues would all still be addressed if the NHL adopted the 3-on-3 overtime proposition they’ve been studying.
Think about it. Everyone loves 4-on-4 overtime hockey and 3-on-3 would bring even more offense and drama to the sport. There would be more mistakes, more scoring chances and naturally more goals because it’s tougher to defend 3-on-3 than 4-on-4.
The NHL should adopt 3-on-3 overtime. It can keep the shootouts if it wants to, but they’ll rightfully be the rarity rather than the norm they’ve become.
3. Put the Winter Classic in Detroit
This one feels like it might actually happen, and the arguments are nicely summarized here. Besides, Detroit didn’t insist on moving to the Eastern Conference in realignment after all, so the NHL may owe the team a favour. The Red Wings have been the NHL’s marquee U.S. team – not to mention the league’s elite franchise – for almost two decades. They deserve a chance to host the Winter Classic, preferably against the rival Chicago Blackhawks. What an alumni game that would be.
4. Move the Phoenix Coyotes
Let’s put everyone out of their misery, shall we? The most logical place to move the team is Quebec City, but they’ve still got arena and ownership issues to address. Besides, as Elliotte Friedman points out, the NHL might want to leverage interest in Quebec City and Metro Toronto to reap an expansion fee windfall down the road. If this means the Coyotes have to therefore move to Kansas City, Seattle or (god forbid) Las Vegas, at least there’s hope those markets could one day love hockey. None of that hope exists in Phoenix anymore.
Sadly, the NHL probably can’t sell the team until after a new collective bargaining agreement offers a new ownership group some cost-certainty. This means 2012-13 could feature another year of lame-duck, desert dog hockey.
5. Negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for September 1st, 2012
Forget the details of potential negotiations for a second – here’s why the NHL and NHLPA should only come to an agreement in September 2012.
Other than the NHL draft and the start of free agency on July 1st, the NHL off-season is a snooze fest, confined to the margins of the sporting landscape. Many fans are okay with this, having been exhausted from an NHL post-season that drags on until June. In general, fans are happy to forget about hockey until training camp in September.
Both the NFL and NBA generated huge buzz and sent their fans into frenzy by forcing their off-seasons into a compressed amount of time. The NHL could also benefit from this, using the first two weeks of September as the off-season, and the last two weeks as a compressed training camp schedule. Then they can drop the puck as planned, without having lost a single game to a work stoppage but having created a month-long extravaganza for fans.
No one wants to miss a game of NHL hockey due to collective bargaining. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the NHL and NHLPA waited until August to start serious talks.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
On January 7th, most of us will be a week into our already-failing New Year’s resolutions, but in Quebec on that day, separatists and French-language groups will be protesting against the “policy of Anglicization” at the first Habs home game of the new year.
The firing of Jacques Martin and hiring of English-speaking Randy Cunneyworth as interim head coach has many in Quebec upset. To them, the Montreal Canadiens are already becoming Anglicized with the growing presence of English music at the Bell Centre, bilingual arena announcements and the lack of Francophone players on the Habs roster. Naming Cunneyworth as head coach just made the problem much, much worse.
Imperatif Français and Mouvement Quebec Français have already called for a boycott of Molson products (the Molsons own the Habs) to protest the hiring of Cunneyworth, and both groups hope that others will refuse to buy Canadiens merchandise over the holidays.
Boycotting beer and protesting over an INTERIM coach? Really?
Originally this Rant was based on these groups overreacting to something temporary (Cunneyworth), and how ridiculous that is, but as I wrote, I realized that if you take away the labels and the history of the groups involved, this entire situation is boiled down to this:
A group of people are boycotting and protesting over the hiring of a person from a different ethnicity.
Of course it’s more complex than that, and don’t get me wrong, I completely understand how important the Montreal Canadiens are to Quebecois culture and always have been; you’d have to be deaf, dumb and ignorant not to see that.
But at the same time, this is blatant discrimination against someone because of their ethnic background.
And when has that ever been okay?
Because it’s Quebec, however, it seems somewhat normal or expected from separatist groups and language groups, so many Canadians tend to turn a blind eye or walk on eggshells around the subject.
People don’t want to label it as discrimination because we’re discussing something culturally sensitive to Canadians.
But let’s turn the tables for a moment: What if a French-speaking coach was being protested against in, let’s say, Edmonton because fans couldn’t understand his accent, and they wanted an English-speaking coach because Alberta is an English-speaking province?
Could you imagine the backlash and cries of discrimination out of Quebec?
How is it different if French people want a coach fired for being English?
I think my point is, discrimination is discrimination, regardless of the battle cry it hides behind.
What does Cunneyworth’s language have to do with his coaching skills or the success of the Canadiens in NHL rankings? Especially when his assignment is only temporary? Who knows, he could have the ability to take the Habs to the playoffs, but apparently that doesn’t matter to some Quebecois.
Hell, the poor guy wasn’t even given a chance to prove himself as a coach before people started freaking out, simply because he couldn’t speak French.
I think there’s a word for that.
Why are so many people making excuses for this behaviour simply because it’s culturally sensitive? Why is this blatant display of discrimination against Cunneyworth considered tolerable in this country because it’s coming from Quebec?
I’ll leave it at this:
It is completely unacceptable for any group to openly demand the removal of someone simply because he or she isn’t from a certain ethnicity, race or culture.
Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens-Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Final.
Don’t expect a repeat appearence from either team.
Today, the Kings made it official, hiring Darryl Sutter as their new coach.
We talked last week about how hiring Sutter might just be the least imaginative, worst-thought-out decision GM Dean Lombardi could make for his team.
The Kings already defend well – it’s hard to see Sutter adding to this area.
The Kings already had a coach who demanded accountability – and it’s doubtful Darryl Sutter will do this in a way that’s more innovative than Terry Murray.
Scoring is the Kings primary area of weakness, as it has been for the past couple of seasons.
Who knows – hatred of Sutter may rally players in the dressing room and get the team into the playoffs. There’s certainly enough talent on the roster for the Kings to be a playoff team.
But it’s doubtful the Kings make it, and blame should rest squarely on Lombardi’s shoulders.
He’s the one who’s had incredible difficulty acquiring the game-breaker Los Angeles has needed for the past three seasons (despite having a bevy of young talent to trade).
He’s the one who played hardball with Drew Doughty, resulting in a missed training camp, hurt feelings and a sub-par season to date.
He’s the one who traded for Dustin Penner last year, when anyone following the Oilers knew motivating the big guy was a challenge.
He’s the one who decided to give Justin Williams another $3.5+ million contract after his first 20-goal season in four years.
To his credit, Lombardi’s created a deep organization with strength on the blueline and in goal.
But teams that win in the NHL can score. And most of Lombardi’s moves to help the attack have been like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.
Speaking of the Titanic, sorry Canadiens fans, but the Habs have hit their iceberg, and it’s named Pierre Gauthier.
While Jacques Martin may be the devil for creating hockey devoid of any offensive flourish, the fact remains that he got an incredible amount of success out of an (arguably) mediocre cast of players.
Firing coach Martin was clearly the act of a general manager (Gauthier) scrambling to keep blame off his shoulders.
You know, where it should be.
It’s Gauthier who completely botched the Andre Markov situation, giving him a long-term contract without first confirming the extent of the defenseman’s knee injury. Four months in, it would be a surprise to see Markov play this season.
Gauthier built the 2011-12 team with Markov penciled in on the blueline, and he has had to scramble (Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle) to fill the gap. Results of the scrambling have been mixed to say the least.
Meanwhile, the Habs continue to feature a pop-gun attack. Assistant coach Perry Pearn was the scapegoat earlier in the year. Now Jacques Martin’s fallen on the sword. In either case, it wasn’t their fault the team hasn’t drafted or traded for a 30-goal talent since Michael Cammalleri joined Montreal three years ago.
Even in the Cammalleri case, good goal-scorers need to play with centremen who can create space and opportunity on the ice. This describes something other than the corpse of Scott Gomez, who’s been given more rope by the Montreal front office than all the cowboys at the Calgary Stampede.
Now, St. Patrick himself, Patrick Roy, has let it be known he’d be interested in coaching the team… if they call him after this season. That’s nice of Patrick to give the Montreal media something to chew on over the holiday season, if not the rest of the NHL season.
In Gauthier’s hands, the 2011-12 Habs are devolving into a circus.
Expect a new ringmaster under the Habs big top next year.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY